Behind the pretty squares
Instagram has a way of making everything look easy. Yeah sure you can run a business, all you need is some motivational quotes and a coffee on a Monday morning right?
(FYI neither of us drink coffee and Mondays get way too much negativity!)
There are brands that have really inspired us as well as our friends in small businesses and it's easy to look outside and see everyone killing it and think that it's possible for us to do the same.
In many ways we are. Here we are today, much further than we imagined we be. Our first year sales forecast was smashed within weeks and we have created a buzz around a product that is now on people's Birthday wish lists. But, and there is always a but... it isn’t always as easy as the squares make it look. With lots of new products soon to be launched and having conquered our first official year we thought it would be a good time to reflect on our highs, lows and dreams for the year ahead.
First let’s talk about the highs because honestly there has been a lot and not to brag but we are fricking proud, grateful but mostly surprised!
The Good Stuff
- Designed and manufactured branded products that many of you actually like. (Still pinching ourselves!)
- Made the long distance partnership work despite time zones and we haven’t yet destroyed our family dynamics!
- Launched successfully in two regions and stocking in 11 different countries to over 100 different stockists.
- Gained an Instagram following of over 19,000 people and businesses #hellofriends!
- We hired our first employees, just part time but we're growing!
On the flip side there have been some lows, the times where we both thought it was time to pack this in, give up, shut the shop and just say sorry. These are the things we hid from you, not because we are ashamed necessarily although the imposter syndrome really does kick in. It's because we wanted to make sure we could solve all the problems before publicly discussing them. Behind every email there is a real person who has put their everything into the locker you have received and at first the pain and tears didn’t feel worth it. It is only now when we have worked our butts off to work through the solutions, look at the figures of it all and take a step back from the frustration and sadness that we are ok to talk about it.
So here is what we have been dealing with...
The Not-So-Good Stuff
- Damages - As some of you dear customers have experienced, (thankfully still a very small percentage) we have had issues with damages. There is a combination of reasons and it has mainly affected our Skinny. The weight and size of it, the handling by couriers and the insufficient packaging have meant that some of our products have not been arriving as perfectly as we would like. The very first damage email I got was from a lovely lady named Natalie, it was also one of the first orders we ever sent out in the UK and I was crushed. Our commitment is to make sure every single customer has a beautiful locker. In the last 6 months I've spent weekends in a hired van or my tiny car driving to personally deliver lockers, replace parts and collect the damaged pieces. My boyfriend Marc, our brother Mark (yes it's confusing!), sister in-law-to-be Petrece, our Dad and of course Holly (our first employee) have all been incredibly helpful. Together we have solved nearly every issue.
- Loosing a stockist - I said nearly every issue. We were gutted when one of our stockists decided the damaged panels they received meant they could no longer sell our products. This has happened just once and we learnt a lot from it. As a very new business we are well aware we have much to learn and believe me we are learning fast. Our products now have much better protection from the rough handling that is unavoidable with couriers and we are confident that these issues will get smaller and smaller. We are so grateful to all our stockists who have bought our products, given us space in their gorgeous shops and allowed us to fix any issues with understanding. Ultimately all the issues are all 100% solvable and we are totally here to make our customers happy.
- Packaging - We really didn't realise just how much of our time the packaging would take up but we feel like we've learnt the fast paced, hard way and the work has paid off. We now have a packaging solution that were are confident in. In our big picture dreams we would love to have plastic free packaging but it's not as easy as we wished it was for the kind of products we are selling. So for now, the bulk of the packaging is made from a cardboard honeycomb and we've limited polystyrene to where it is needed most. Having damaged products that become useless isn't sustainable environmentally or financially so we have tried to balance this in the best way we can.
Manufacturing - Something we'd like to share more is the process of making the lockers. It's actually pretty amazing! Each piece starts as a roll of metal and goes through so many steps and is touched by so many hands to become a locker. With this comes the reality of imperfections and mistakes. It's been a learning process that we share with the team that we work with in the factory and while we have made changes and evolved production to reduce problems, it's also become something we've learnt is unavoidable. Our factory is not like one of those fancy car factories where robots do all the work. Nope. Lockers are made by humans and like every single area of our business and lives, there will be room for error. We are proud of how they are manufactured and part of that is having the humility to know perfection is not achievable by any human. Some of what is considered to be imperfection is often a part of the process. For example, all the panels are hung on S hooks to be powder coated so there will always be a small mark where the panel touched the hook. It is located in a discreet location for this reason and should be seen as the marks of its creation like brush marks in a painting. Other imperfections are simply mistakes and we are here to make them right.
- Delays - Our baskets caused us the biggest headaches by turning up late to the party! When it became clear that they wouldn't be arriving as soon as our first drop of lockers we made a bold move to air freight a bunch of them over. The cost of air vs sea is huge so it meant we would basically make no profit of them but keeping to our word and delivering on time was our priority. Then, the courier lost them. Completely, no trace, no tracking. You'd think 300 boxes would be hard to misplace! After days of worry, some heartbroken tears and 6345 phone calls they were found somewhere in Amsterdam and we were promised delivery in two days. They messed up again and missed the delivery date by yet another few days. But, we got them eventually and were able to send them out with the lockers, just in time.
- Out of stock - This is really a positive and on some days it does feel like that! People loved our stuff enough that they've sold beyond our expectations, it’s a compliment. It's also a sign of how much we underestimated what we were creating and mostly crucially how much we underestimated ourselves. Truthfully, we just didn't have the confidence to dream big enough at the beginning and it's something we are both learning. Lots of people say it's good to sell out but then you get that phone call or email saying a customer really, really wants the Slate Skinny and it actually hurts to think we didn’t buy enough first time round and can't give them what they want.
- Out of our control - There's a lot that can fall into this category. We work with and rely on a lot of people to get our lockers to you. There's our factory, the transport to the port, the ships they travel on, the unloading at the port, getting them to our warehouses, unloading them, our website, our shipping systems, the couriers we use and the customers who receive them. Along the way there have been plenty of hiccups! Sometimes couriers don't show up, sometimes our website goes down for no reason, sometimes a customer puts a wrong address or bad weather causes delays. It's life. We try to keep things in perspective and move quickly to find solutions. We try to be understanding and to accept these things are inevitable somewhere along our journey but it can be frustrating and cause a lot of sleepless nights.
We are human beings behind this brand, it's not just pretty styled photos. There are feelings and emotions that come from every “cha-ching” and every. single. problem. Sitting behind that computer screen is either me or Becca and we really, deeply give a shit.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the kindness you, our customers, friends, family, followers and cheerleaders have shown us. You've helped us survive thus far and we are totally looking forward to releasing more products soon...
Special shout out to our new Happy Customer Heroes, Holly in the UK + Emily in Australia!
Love Jess x